Seven years ago, Vanessa Wilcock asked Elane Photography in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to photograph the commitment ceremony between her and her same-sex partner.Elaine Huguenin declined on the grounds that she only photographed traditional, not same-sex weddings. That refusal set in motion a legal battle with serious implications for religious freedom.
Wilcock, despite finding another, cheaper photographer, filed a complaint with the New Mexico Civil Rights Commission, which ruled that Huguenin had violated the state’s anti-discrimination law. That rule was upheld by an appeals court.
Then last week, the New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously upheld the appeals court’s ruling.
But even more troubling than the court’s ruling against Huguenin is the reasoning it employed to justify its decision. Every appeal to religious freedom was swept aside as if the phrase “free exercise” did not appear anywhere in the Constitution. In “vindicating” the right of one minority – same-sex couples – the court rendered null the rights of another, namely people of faith who adhere to traditional teachings about sexuality.
And still even more troubling was the concurring opinion of justice Richard Bosson. He acknowledged that, under New Mexico law, the Huguenins are “compelled . . . to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives.” He admitted that this compulsion will “leave a tangible mark on the Huguenins and others of similar views.”
Nevertheless, this compromise is, according to Bosson, “the price of citizenship.” While the Huguenins are free to believe whatever they want, outside of their home they “have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different.”
Bosson called this compromise “part of the glue that holds us together as a nation, the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a people.”
There are two huge problems with this reasoning. The first is this artificial distinction between belief and conduct. It’s a distinction that is especially ironic coming from a court that wouldn’t countenance a distinction between objecting to a particular sexual orientation and objecting to specific sexual acts.
If what gay people do is inseparable from who they are, then why should Christians be expected to separate creed from deed?